In Ho Chi Minh City, and the coastal town of Vũng Tàu, you’ll find streets devoted almost entirely to books.
In the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, amid the sweltering hustle and bustle, you’ll find a quiet oasis that’s totally unexpected.
Book Street, in the shadows of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Central Post Office, is possibly the longest and most unique street of its type in the world.
As the name suggests, it’s a street devoted almost entirely to books.
Officially known as Nguyen Van Binh, the strip made up of 21 tiny bookstores has been so popular since it opened in 2016 that it has been replicated at Vũng Tàu, 120km south-east of Ho Chi Minh City.
There, just metres from the beach on Ba Cu Street, you’ll find 17 book stalls side by side, including two book-themed cafes where locals come to read.
Despite the rise of e-books and the shuttering of high street bookstores in other parts of the world, these dedicated book streets are a popular diversion for young Vietnamese people who come to meet, hang out, drink coffee and take photos.
Ho Chi Minh City Book Street
The tree-lined strip, which runs from Hai Ba Trung Street to Notre Dame Cathedral in District 1, is an oasis of tranquility in the busiest part of Ho Chi Minh City.
At roughly 144 metres long, the street includes stalls from all the major book publishers, as well as cafes, a children’s play area, artwork and handicrafts, including painting, photography and pottery.
Check out the miniature blue library bus in the middle of the street, where children can read books for free from 8.30am to midday and 3.30pm to 7pm.
You’ll find the shelves in most stores well stocked with books, comics, magazines and newspapers in numerous languages, including Vietnamese, English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Sometimes there are even bargain bins with an occasional best seller.
It’s also an Aladdin’s cave of Harry Potter books – one of the few foreign-authored fiction books local publishing houses took a chance on, given there’s usually very little public interest.
Because Book Street is adorned with lanterns, flowers, plants, lights and statues, it is a hot spot for selfie-taking tourists.
Getting There: Ho Chi Minh City Book Street: Nguyen Van Binh Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1. Next to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Central Post Office.
Vũng Tàu Book Street
Inspired by the success of Book Street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau opened its own Book Street in February 2018, just metres from the beach.
Wander through the 17 capsule-like bookstores on Ba Cu Street and you’ll find an array of genres including fiction, non-fiction, travel, cooking and poetry – as well as some quirky fitouts and designs.
What struck me is that there’s an incredible number of great children’s books (including plenty of Harry Potter box sets), although many books appeared to be in Vietnamese only.
There’s also a treasure trove of old and rare books waiting to be discovered, if you have the patience to scour the shelves. Just beware though that the price tags are not always the cheapest, especially on many English titles.
Books aside, you’ll also find souvenirs, coffee shops and a shaded park area for theatre and art performances.
Traditionally, around Lunar New Year, Book Street is a heaving mass of people with performances, painting and book-themed activities to entertain the crowds.
Getting There: Vung Tau Book Street, Ba Cu Street, near the beach.
© 2020 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved.
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